As water restrictions tighten, Santa Cruz wastewater continues to go to waste
Whether it’s taking shorter showers, fixing leaky fixtures, or being more conscientious about irrigating gardens, Santa Cruz residents are taking extreme measures to get through the current water crisis. Since stage three water restrictions were implemented in May, locals have been doing what they can to conserve, and it shows.
Before the new restrictions, the Santa Cruz Water Department hoped to reduce the city’s water consumption to 8.2 million gallons of water per day (mgd) by the end of May. At the completion of the month, the city averaged 8.3 mgd, compared to the normal average of about 10 mgd. Rosemary Menard, director of the city’s Water Department, sees it as a good sign for the conservation effort.
“I would say that we have had really great cooperation,” says Menard. “I think the community has had the information it needed to take the steps that needed to be taken.”
But for engineer and longtime advocate of water reclamation, Peter Haase, conserving water is only one aspect of the larger picture. Haase points out that the millions of gallons of water used by the city each day is subsequently lost to the sea after it leaves the Wastewater Treatment Facility—when it could be put to use.
“That water is being used once, and then being dumped,” says Haase, primary engineer at Fall Creek Engineering. “I think it’s a crime. We need to go to the expense to treat it and reuse it in a variety of ways.”
Although highly treated wastewater is not suitable to drink, other areas of the county—such as Scotts Valley and the Pajaro Valley— have utilized reclaimed wastewater for irrigation and other purposes for years.
“It’s being done all around us,” says Haase.
Scar for the course
One business that knows the importance of recycled water is Pasatiempo Golf Club. The course lies in an unincorporated portion of the county, but purchases its water from the City of Santa Cruz, and accounts for about one percent of the city’s total water use. Due to the stage three water restrictions, the water consumption of golf courses for irrigation purposes has been reduced by 49 percent, leading to browning greens at Pasatiempo, and a small drop in business, according to Scott Hoyt, general manager of the course. “At this point in time, I would have to say that it is affecting us,” says Hoyt. “It’s not drastic or radical, but certainly compared to the first three years that I’ve been here, it’s definitely down a little bit.”
When Hoyt became general manager of the golf course in 2011, the immediate mission given to him by the club’s board of directors was to try and attain recycled water resources from Scotts Valley.
But with so many parties involved—Pasatiempo Golf Club, the Santa Cruz Water Department, Scotts Valley Water District, and the City of Scotts Valley—the process of acquiring Scotts Valley’s treated wastewater has been arduous.
“The wheels of politics turn slowly,” says Hoyt.
The agencies involved have considered a few different ideas to get reclaimed wastewater to the course. One was to build a pipeline from Scotts Valley to Santa Cruz to provide treated wastewater to Pasatiempo, and send fresh water to Scotts Valley. But as it would require the construction of approximately eight miles of pipe, the plan’s high price tag kept it from going anywhere.
Scotts Valley and the golf course then looked into building a pipeline from the water reclamation plant in the city straight to Pasatiempo, but the five miles of pipe, which would have been paid for by the golf course, once again proved to be too expensive.
The most recent strategy up for consideration is to utilize the excess of treated wastewater—already traveling through an outflow line past the golf course—to irrigate Pasatiempo. But a special permit from the state would be required to determine if there were any health concerns associated with the use of the secondary treated water on the course, as the wastewater the city uses for local businesses and residential developments is treated to the tertiary level, which is the highest quality for treated wastewater.
Hoyt has to wait on the California Department of Public Health to decide if the use of secondary- treated wastewater poses any health risks, but because all of the course’s irrigation is done at night, and their drinking fountains and buildings are connected to a separate plumbing system, Hoyt believes the dangers are nonexistent.
Even if the state doesn’t approve of the secondary water use for Pasatiempo’s irrigation, Hoyt, with the help of a consulting firm, has located a new water source under the course’s twelfth hole.
“We’re waiting for either approval on that [permit], or we’re going to start digging for a well that we have preliminary indications is useable, and once we find out one of those will produce, we need to construct a storage tank and pumping station,” says Hoyt.
If the golf course gets the permit, it will still need resident approval, modifications to the outflow line coming from Scotts Valley, further negotiations with Scotts Valley Water District, and the construction of the tank and pumping station to mix the reclaimed water with potable water from Santa Cruz. Ideally, Hoyt would like to have all three sources flowing into the golf course: the potable water from Santa Cruz, the treated wastewater from Scotts Valley, and the resources from the well, which lie about 1,500 feet underground.
Going with the flow
Piret Harmon, general manager of the Scotts Valley Water District, also hopes to bring multiple water sources to Scotts Valley, which relies mostly on ground water at present.
“It’s like the stock market,” says Harmon. “The more diverse portfolio you have, the better off you are, because different years and climate conditions affect sources differently.”
As for the future use of recycled water in the city of Santa Cruz, Haase says one of the biggest historic barriers lies between the two entities involved in the managing of the city’s water supply: the Water Department, which handles water as an asset, and the Wastewater Treatment Facility, which treats the water as a waste product. The Water Supply Advisory Committee, a group of citizens tasked with making recommendations for the city’s future use of water, will present their findings on the subject to the city council later this summer.
“They need to look at the fact that this wastewater has value,” says Harmon. “In the long run, it’s just going to be the way it is. Recycled water is going to have to play a role. It’s too valuable. But it’s a paradigm shift. Right now we treat it as a waste, and we need to get to a point where we treat it as a resource.”